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Portugal through despite Ronaldo off-night

As Ricardo Quaresma stepped up to the penalty spot with the chance to put Portugal through to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo stood 15 yards away from his team-mates, seemingly praying.

The Selecao captain had the most to lose. He had had a rare off-night in front of goal against Poland and, at 31 years of age, this was perhaps his final chance at international glory.

Quaresma scored, lashing high into the net to hand Portugal a 5-3 shootout triumph after a 1-1 draw at the end of 120 minutes in Marseille.

Ronaldo turned arms aloft and ran to the bench.

He had scored the opening spot-kick, opting to go first this time, as opposed to last as he did for Real Madrid in the Champions League final in May.

It was the highlight of a frustrating night for the former Manchester United man.

Playing as an out-and-out target man seems a waste of his prodigious talents, but he made the most of it, holding the ball up, working the channels, dragging defenders out of position and making space for his team-mates.

In fact, he did almost everything right except the bit at which he normally excels – putting the ball in the net.

Two early snap-shots were blocked before a typically ambitious 35-yard free-kick crashed into a Poland wall.

His first genuine sight of goal came after 29 minutes when, having slipped the attentions of Michal Pazdan, he shot tamely straight at goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.

For most of the evening, Portugal’s tactics appeared clear – get the ball wide and whip crosses into the box. It was not subtle, but it should have paid dividends a minute later when Pazdan barged clumsily into the back of Ronaldo. It looked a clear penalty, but referee Felix Brych waved play on.

Ronaldo’s radar continued to malfunction after the break, shooting lamely into the sidenetting after 56 minutes.

Four minutes later he mis-kicked following another Nani centre.

He was starting to cut a frustrated figure and an overhit Nani cross was met with a typically theatrical slap of the thighs and look of exasperation.

His night was to get worse, however, as he missed the chance to spare everyone at the Stade Velodrome the tedium of extra-time when, having latched on to substitute Joao Moutinho’s delighted chipped pass, he kicked thin air when faced only with Fabianski.

An early chance came and went in extra-time as he couldn’t rearrange his feet to turn in Eliseu’s ball.

It proved the best chance of a dire period of extra-time.

By that stage, the early action seemed a distant memory.

Robert Lewandowski ended his own personal goal drought with his first goal of the tournament after just 100 seconds, expertly steering home Kamil Grosicki’s left-wing cross.

Renato Sanches then threatened to take the stage away from both Lewandowski and Ronaldo. 

At just 18 years and 316 days, he was the youngest player to start for Portugal at a major tournament – breaking Ronaldo’s record, coming into the side to replace the injured Andres Gomes.

It was a leap of faith by coach Fernando Santos, but one he justified in spades.

It was his equaliser that dragged Portugal level.

Sanches and Nani played a neat one-two on the right-side of the Poland penalty area and, when the ball fell back at the feet of the Bayern Munich new-boy, he fired in with the aid of a slight deflection off Grzegorz Krychowiak.

Sanches ran out of steam as the match ambled towards its inevitable conclusion. 

He stepped up and scored in the shootout, as did Ronaldo, as young and old combined to send Poland home and Portugal through to a clash with either Wales or Belgium on July 6.

Thu 30 Jun, 2016
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